brand leadership

Strong brands have strong leaders with strong personalities. This branded leadership will help organizations succeed because the audience will have confidence that the leaders will respond to their needs.

colonel sandersLeaders of the organization (at all levels) can influence brand perception. How they exercise that influence can have positive or negative effects.

But where does this leadership come from? There are three primary sources:

Shoppers trust Joe down at Joe’s Butcher Shop more than the corporate meat cutter behind the glass at the Mega-Low Mart. The product is similar in both instances. Why is there a major perception difference? It’s because shoppers perceive Joe as a guide, curator, and maybe even a friend. His personal integrity stands behind his product. The meat at the big box store is presented as a faceless commodity.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the small mom & pop business can do this stuff, right? That’s their strength. Major national brands can’t do it.”

Perhaps you’re reading this post on a product you picked up down at Steve’s Apple Store.

Steve Jobs was defined by Apple and Apple will always be defined by Steve Jobs (and Woz). Jobs’ personal credibility bled through to the brand. While he was infamously a hands-on micromanager in development and design, he didn’t personally sell iPhones, Macs, and the rest to consumers….Or did he?…You saw the personal connection between him, the brand, and consumers at when he unveiled a new Apple product when he was alive and you certainly saw it when he died.

You’ve seen this strong personal leadership that crossed the veil into the brand at several strong corporate entities. Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Richard Branson at Virgin. Herb Kelleher at SouthWest. Oprah at … Oprah. All individuals whose personal leadership made those brands great.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the founders of these companies made a huge impact on the corporate brand. But our founder is ____. (boring / evil / dead / etc) We can’t do it.”

No doubt Henry Ford, in his day, made as much or more of an influence on his company as any of the people I mentioned above. His influence on the Ford brand is finished. But with social media connections to people like Scott Monty (@ScottMonty), there is a personal leadership and connection to the brand. Through an effective social media strategy, consumers can talk “personally” to a brand and feel a one-on-one connection that is similar to Joe down at the butcher shop.

Another point to remember is that brand leadership happens at every level of the organization. The barista that you interact with every morning who knows your name and you know theirs is more of the face of Starbucks to you than Howard Schultz is. Develop a corporate culture that helps the people who are ambassadors of your brand (employees, volunteers, other customers, and more) show brand leadership.

People want to interact with personalities, not corporations. No matter where the leadership for that personality comes from, organizations will benefit from it whether it be from an employee empowered corporate culture, an interactive social media presence, or a visible dynamic founder.

brand strategy lessons from zappos cyberattack

Online retailer Zappos has been attacked via one of their servers in Kentucky. (yes, we have servers and electricity in Ky.)

Anyone who has spent any amount of time following me or listening to me speak knows I love to use Zappos as an example of great customer service. I even used them as a case study in Brand Zeitgeist. And once again, they are showing some smart reactions to a bad situation. Just a few important points to learn from this event:

Cyber attacks are a reality. If you have sensitive customer information in digital format, it’s not a matter of “if” this will happen to your organization, but “when”. Do as much as you can to prevent such attacks, but also have a plan ready of how you will respond when it does happen.

Communication is important. The knee-jerk reaction for most after an event like this would be to communicate with customers … which obviously is important. But a more important first step is internal communication. Customers will ask your employees questions. Employees need to know how to respond to those questions. CEO Tony Hsieh sent out an email to employees prior to the customer email going out.

They’ve gone to emergency mode by taking the call center offline and just using email as a single point of communication. They have pressed each employee into service as a customer service rep during this crisis. Most companies couldn’t dream of doing this. But, because of the unique culture at Zappos, even the janitors know how to respond to customers.

The social media lesson is that, even though they’re focusing on email, they are actually responding to each individual post on their Facebook wall and each tweet on Twitter.

Today, there are only the quick and the dead. Zappos didn’t have numerous meetings to only post a weak response a few days after the event. They worked quickly and decisively by resetting all passwords and initiating the first point of communication about the problem with customers. The first storyteller frames the narrative.

Well built brands can take a hit and recover. Much of what they’re doing with this reaction couldn’t be done if they had not spent the last several years creating a great corporate culture which bled through to a well-developed brand strategy. This is probably the most important lesson for brands to learn. You need to build your boat before you get to the water.

UPDATE: They’re even responding to the postive feedback: